We had a chance to catch up with English punk rock artist Frank Turner to discuss musical inspirations, his unique set lists, and a penguin wearing a sombrero.
Looking through your past set lists I noticed you generally do not play the same set every night, is there a reason behind that?
I like to try to change things up a little night on night. I have a lot of songs, and there are people who come to more than one show, and I’m always tinkering, chasing that elusive perfect set list. It keeps it interesting for the audience and for me and the band.
You have a very different style of music than what is considered “mainstream.” What pushes you not pursue this specific style rather than any other style of music?
I don’t really think about music in those terms, certainly not when it comes to writing. I just write what feels good to me, and like any other writer, I’m the sum of my influences to a large degree. I write songs I’d like to hear.
Where did you get the inspiration to write songs with a common message of positivity?
I think I have a wide streak of incorrigible optimism when it comes to songwriting. I suppose that I don’t see much point in leaving my comments on the world in a negative place. If songs are normative, which they often are, you might as well try to use that impetus to achieve something positive, to do something about the bad news.
Who are some of your musical inspirations?
I grew up listening to punk and hardcore – Black Flag, Descendants, NOFX and so on – and then I got into folk, country, and Springsteen. A big shout out for the Weakerthans as well.
What has been your favorite encounter with a fan?
I’m not overly keen on the word “fan” to be honest, it implies a permanent division between me and my audience. I go to shows when I’m not on tour myself. I meet a lot of people after shows, and people often say wonderfully kind things about the music I write and what they take from that, it’s always flattering. I’ve made quite a few good friends over the years from people I’ve met at shows.
Has there been a song that you’ve released that you weren’t sure about but it turned out to be received very well by your fans?
Oh yes; I’m quite often unsure about my songs before they hit the public sphere. And it’s worth saying that I don’t think public acclaim is the only measure of success as a writer; there are songs I’ve written which I love which aren’t all that popular, but so what? All the same, it’s a wonderful feeling to tentatively release something into the world, and have a positive response to it.
What is your favorite song to perform live and why?
It’d be hard to pick just one, I’ve written a lot of songs in my time. In general I’m pretty unashamedly populist in my song choices; I like to get a room moving and engaged with a song, dancing and singing along.
You tell a lot of personal stories in your music. Is there ever a point where you stop yourself and say “I can’t write about this.”?
There have been many, but often that feeling signifies to me that I’m touching on something more profound than mundane, so I often try to push through that feeling. Sometimes it is too much though. Usually that has to do with songs that touch on other people’s private affairs, which it perhaps isn’t my business to discuss in public.
If you weren’t performing and playing music, where do you think you’d be right now?
Trying to perform and play music? *laughs* I don’t really know. This has been the centre of my life since I was a kid.
What has been the best thing that has come from creating music and touring the world?
The fact of this being my life. I get to be creative, I’m my own boss (for the most part), I get to try to entertain rooms full of strangers every night. I told everyone I was going to do this when I was a kid and everyone laughed. It feels good to prove people wrong.
Are you able to pin-point the moment you realized music was what you wanted to do?
The moment I fell in love with rock n’ roll, which was the first time I heard Iron Maiden when I was 10 years old. A switch flipped and I’ve never looked back.
A penguin walks through the door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he there?
I’m listening to the Weakerthans right now, and there’s a song (sort of) about this: “Comment allez-vous ce soir? Je suis comme ci comme ça.* ( Yes, a penguin taught me French back in Antarctica.”
What is one thing you want your fans, as well as the people reading this who are just hearing about you for the first time, to know about you?
I guess I put what I want people to know about me into my songs. All the rest is window dressing really.
We would like to give a big thank you to Frank Turner for taking the time to make this interview happen. Frank Turner’s new album Be More Kind is available now! You can also catch him on his Be More Kind World Tour!
*How are you tonight? I am like this.